When bands break up, the inevitable "what's next?" question weighs heavily on the minds of musicians and fans alike. For most, the years spent cultivating creative energy won't allow them to simply stop making music. Some, like Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, continue along sonic paths that their previous bands carved out. Others, like the Stroke's Julian Casablancas, use new groups to explore vastly different directions.
In looking at the lineup of fall concerts, we couldn't help but notice that a number of such solo projects are coming through town. Here are seven we're excited about, with one of their former band's songs contrasted with a new work.
bob Mould (Hüsker Dü)
Hüsker Dü originated in late '70s Minnesota as a hardcore act. Their mosh-pit inspiring songs were short, punchy, and filled with rowdy shouts. In the years leading up to the alternative phenomenon of the '90s, their sound softened into something resembling Guided By Voices and REM, with catchy sing-along choruses and distorted open chords informing the melody.
This is the direction that Bob Mould continues as a solo act (aside from a brief sojourn into the world of late-'90s electronica). Mould's songs are bouncy, with prominent vocals and guitar leading listeners through the songs. Mould's newest release, Beauty & Ruin, came out in June, and he's spending the next half year on the road supporting it—although the Decemberists' Colin Meloy, in the filmed-in-Portland music video for "I Don't Know You Anymore," tells Mould that there are better ways he can support the album.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks (Pavement)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
(Part of Project Pabst)
Sept 26As the principal former songwriter of Pavement, Stephen Malkmus's current project isn't a huge sidestep from what first put him in the spotlight. The songs still sound like melodic alt-rock tunes wrapped in a love for jam culture. But there is a sense of maturity to Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. While the songs and stage presence are every bit as nonchalant and lackadaisical as we've come to expect, the laid-back persona seems to come from the content mindset of an established family man and accomplished songwriter, rather than from a freshly burnt spliff.
They're also a local act, since Malkmus relocated to Portland and formed the Jicks after Pavement's breakup at the turn of the century. Those who haven't followed Malkmus post-Pavement won't be disappointed in a Jicks show, but there's plenty of substance and momentum in this project to warrant excitement in avid Malkmus fans.
GZA (Wu-Tang Clan)
Project Pabst Blue Ribbon Stage
Sept 28Despite Wu-Tang's saturation of pop culture, from Playstation video games to department store clothing lines, individual members (Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Ol' Dirty Bastard, etc.) command nearly the same level of name recognition. After a brief hiatus, the whole group is back with a new album, but that doesn't mean solo endeavors have halted. This year alone has found GZA (pronounced "jizz-uh") putting the final touches on his upcoming LP, Dark Matter, and giving a TED talk on the importance of science education and the power of music.
For his Portland show, however, GZA goes back to one of his most popular releases, 1995's Liquid Swords. He will perform the album in its entirety at Project Pabst's Blue Ribbon Stage on Sunday night.
Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes)
Although Bright Eyes was essentially just Conor Oberst with a backing band—exactly like what he's touring as now—many casual listeners of classic lovesick tracks like "First Day of My Life" let Oberst's current happenings slip past unnoticed. Which is too bad; Oberst is on a musical mission to hone his songwriting, marked by poetic prowess and catchy acoustic melodies.
His newest album, Upside Down Mountain, came out in May this year. It may be a bit more twangy than listeners remember from the Bright Eyes singles that brought Oberst national attention, but all of the heartfelt, half-drunk crooning is still in there, just a bit more refined—and all for the better.
The Thurston Moore Band (Sonic Youth)
The Thurston Moore Band
Doug Fir Lounge
Oct 2Sonic Youth has become somewhat legendary for popularizing all things avant-garde and experimental. Though some of their albums are too abrasively noisy for the average listener, they managed to channel enough of their aesthetics into easily digestible pop music so as to enjoy commercial success for several decades.
After the band (and the marriage of singers Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon) fell apart, Moore has continued creating music under a slew of names and lineups. He's done free improvisation releases with Lee Ranaldo, the other guitarist from Sonic Youth. As Chelsea Light Moving, he created a genre he dubbed "Burroughs Rock," with so many references to writers and artists infused, anyone who catches them all is probably a professor of some sort. On top of all this is Moore's solo career. His fourth album as Thurston Moore, entitled The Best Day, is set to come out on October 20 and continues along the path that Sonic Youth walked with its final few steps: mellow, melodic experimentation with occasional noisy reminders of their cacophonous beginnings.
Julian Casablancas + The Voidz (The Strokes)
Julian Casablancas + The Voidz
Nov 11With perhaps the largest seperation in sound between original band and new incarnation in this roundup, Julian Casablanca's newest project sounds almost nothing like the Strokes. The Strokes were often heralded as "retro" darlings that brought rock back to the bobbing, rambunctious fundamentals of greats like the Ramones and the Rolling Stones.
The Voidz, however, keep their eyes decidedly on the future. Their debut album, Tyranny, is set to release Sept. 22 (stream it here) and sends listeners on a roller coaster of an experience—fitting, for what Casablancas calls a "protest" album, both politically and sonically. Fuzzy guitars, futuristic synths, and stylized drums take turns at the forefront of songs. The vocals are still distinctively Casablancas (when they aren't slathered in effects), but that and a guitar lick here and there are about it, as far as Strokes comparisons go. If you love the attitude of the Strokes but wished they would push the envelope musically, the Voidz is going to be the must-see concert experience of the fall.
J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.)
Nov 20As with Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks, J Mascis's heavy hand in sculpting Dinosaur Jr.'s sound means that the songwriting you're going to hear wouldn't feel out of place on a Dinosaur Jr. album. The biggest difference is the acoustic feel to Mascis's solo work. Dinosaur Jr. occasionally dipped into the acoustic realm, between wailing solos and feedback sections, but Mascis has used his solo project to fully embrace acoustic song. Electric guitars make a handful of appearances on last month's release, Tied to a Star, but don't expect much more than the man and an acoustic for the live show.